And then the P.E.I. mussels with chorizo arrived. Cue the veiled dancing girls, the platters of dates dripping with honey. Though the mussels were tiny where voluptuous might have been welcome, the dish was a mind-blower. Ask for extra grilled bread when ordering, as the orange habanero broth is exquisite and begs to be sopped. A large, bendy straw wouldn’t even be out of order if you use it discreetly. “I’ve had orders for the sauce alone,” says Perez.Barbaro
The menu can skew toward the intimidating (when’s the last time you saw canned eels, clams or sardines on a menu?), but all of my visits were met with attentive servers either armed with knowledge or not afraid to run back to the kitchen and check with the chef. Plus: My dining partners weren’t met with glares when they asked for dipping sauces of the tomato and ranch variety.Beat Street Coffee Co. & Bistro
Whether Beat Street catches on as a coffee shop, lunch spot or intimate dining bistro is up to its patrons. But the coffee and dishes offered, not to mention the accessible wine menu, are bound to find their place in hearts of anyone looking for a first-rate dining experience at starving artist price points. Where some coffee shops bite off more than they can chew by offering subpar sandwiches, or where restaurants pair beautiful dishes with lackluster coffee, Beat Street manages to not well, miss a beat.Fratello's Deli & Market
Don’t just settle for familiar pizzas, as tasty as they are. The antipasti section offers a meat-heavy and mozzarella-stuffed arancini (Sicilian risotto balls), and other starters that are easily shared, but could serve as an entire meal. The Crostini Misti of grilled house-made bread came with three toppings: meaty wild mushrooms topped with Fontina cheese, a briny Sicilian olive mix and a to-die-for combination of roasted tomatoes and tiny mozzarella cubes. Paired with a salad of mixed greens topped with the house dressing and generous shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the crostini are a steal at $7. The deli case is the origin for the Antipasto Fratello, an assortment of several cured meats (our plate came with a melt-in-your-mouth sampling of capocolla), cheeses, olives and greens.The Fruteria
At 11 a.m. the breakfast menu morphs into lunch, and different tortas appear. The breads aren't exactly bolillos, but they are extremely good. The al pastor version doesn't seem totally traditional either; the marinated pork is unnaturally orange from achiote. But the whole package, including just enough cubed pineapple, red onion, and avocado cream, is utterly satisfying. I added some of the spunky salsa verde apparently intended for the too-good house-made potato chips — but that's what I do. The jicama salad with cucumber, melon, avocado and more could have used more generous guajillo "dust" and dressing, but everything was impeccably fresh and visually appealing. Tostadas, the likes of chicken tinga and marinated tuna, are also available.Kimura
Kimura, which opened this summer, isn’t as relentlessly noodle-centric as the shop at the heart of Tampopo. But ramen mania, slow though it was to reach San Antonio, has been in the spotlight long enough nationally to expect that Kimura’s efforts will taste better than the packaged college staple. Before anyone leaps to the wrong conclusion, yes, they do.The Luxury
103 E Jones, (210) 354-2274
At surprisingly low — but not dirt-cheap — price points, the changing menu focuses on salads and sandwiches, with a few sides and desserts. Before my first visit, I’d been warned about small portion sizes, so I chose the bound-to-be-hearty Pulled Pig sandwich. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried. Most sandwiches ordered by our group came overstuffed, the exception being a divinely rich Taleggio grilled cheese. My Pulled Pig satisfied, but a French fry-stuffed lamb souvlaki, and garlicky griddled steak were much tastier displays of kitchen ingenuity.
328 E Josephine, (210) 220-1890
The Steak Frites ($24) have arrived from the Sandbar menu, no surprises there, which is a good thing. Also available at The Luxury, the fries are superb. The menu, which also includes Croque Madame ($14), a ham and cheese sandwich with fried egg and Mornay sauce, seemed to be fixed when we visited, though the Boudin Noir ($18) listed was not available.
1012 N Flores, (210) 277-7174
Some of the hits include the huitlacoche empanada, with corn and queso Oaxaca, the Tacos 3 Ways (with a standard al pastor, carne asada and a standout lightly battered fish taco topped with zesty pico and a zippy avocado sauce) and the ceviche, which Valadez has transitioned out of the truck and into the brick-and-mortar restaurant. As a sucker for soup, I was pleasantly pleased by a lunchtime cup of flor de calabaza, or squash blossom, with its comforting broth and chopped yellow and green squash, tomato and bits of corn. My torta de carnitas, while a bit messy, was enjoyable, but the real highlight was the kale salad. While kale might have jumped the shark several months back, this iteration is different enough to bring me back on board: the cilantro lime vinaigrette coated the greens without overwhelming them and touches of queso fresco, pineapple chunks and candied pecans finished the dish. While not the biggest fan of jicama, the addition provided an extra crunch, but a julienne cut might help.Tuk Tuk Tap Room
But nevermind the missteps, Tuk Tuk excels when it comes down to its specials. This is where Gilbert gets a chance to really stretch his legs and showcase his love of Asia with an ever-changing selection. Recent hits included fried prawns ($15.50) with a tamarind and palm sugar coating. Flash fried and only partially shelled (yes, you’re supposed to eat those), the result was sweet and crisp without devolving to saccharine. Shenzen lamb dumplings ($9.50), handmade by Gilbert, in a ginger, scallion and mushroom broth were fragrant and comforting. The Ped KRXB crispy duck ($26.50 with rice and pickled mango salad) laced with anise, cinnamon, tamarind and chili sauce—which Gilbert should bottle—was moist. Toss aside any conventions that eating half a duck will be ladylike. It won’t.